"Let it come down," sang Swans' Michael Gira on the band's 1989 album The Burning World, and on their 12th full-length The Seer, they finally do. That's not to downplay the import of the New York lifers' prior catalog: For 30 years, Swans (and, during a 14-year hiatus, Gira's Angels of Light) have been taunting the elements, snarling at the heavens, and bathing in hellfire. They had already proven themselves contenders for the heaviest band in the world when they went out on a high note in 1996, and then returned, quite unexpectedly, with 2010's triumphant My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky, which doused the very idea of "late-career alt-rock revival" in gasoline and unleashed a Phoenix from the flames. But nothing could've prepared us for the savage mastery of this two-hour magnum opus.
Sonically and structurally, it is the band's most ambitious album to date — probably this year's most ambitious album period — folding together country blues, heavy-metal chug, Glenn Branca hypnosis, the unearthly wails of Ligeti's "Requiem," and the monumental proportions of Sunn O)))'s most epic drones. Swans' current lineup digs into the music with the most discerning kind of violence, fusing gamelan's trance states with a kind of ecstatic fury that is Swans' alone, while the album's sprawling dynamics suggest Gira's mastery of the kind of Teo Macero-inspired collage that has inspired him since 1987's Children of God. It's a distillation of every Swans album into an incredibly potent elixir, embodying rock's ability to terrorize and entrance. P.S.